Geographically it is nearly square in shape and covers an area approximately 60 kilometers squared. (Brown-colored section on map below.)
It has a fast growing population of 1.5 million (including up to 85% expatriates) and is part of a larger metropolitan area including its neighboring emirates, Sharjah and Ajman.
It is one of seven emirates in the United Arab Emirates--a small country which lies along the Persian (or Arabian) Gulf, in the south-east of the Arabian peninsular, with a total population of under 5 million.
That said, it is convenient to think of Dubai as a city-state, similar to Singapore or Hong Kong (when that city was part of British colonial territory).
Dubai was for a time under British protection and one of what were called the Trucial States. It was co-joined to the surrounding political or, more accurately, tribal entities on the basis of a trucial pact.
The seven tribes united in 1971, under the power and guidance of the most influential leader among them, Sheikh Zayed of Abu Dhabi. Indeed, a large part of the legacy of Dubai and other emirates rests with their leaders, who to this day enjoy absolute, feudal-style authority.
Dubai, inasmuch as it has been in union with the six other emirates, is very much master of its own destiny. It was led formerly by Sheikh Rashid (1958-1990), and now his third son, Sheikh Mohammed. ( Dubai's ruling family graphic.)
Today's political leadership:
Dubai's ruler Sh. Mohammed (left) with Abu Dhabi's ruler Sh. Khalifa.
Dubai is presently on a trailblazing path to establish itself as a the world central destination or authority in:
- trade, transport and logistics
- commercial aviation
- resorts and tourism
- building design, construction and real estate development
- infrastructure development
- trade fairs and exhibitions
- banking and finance
- trade in gold and other commodities
- retail merchandising
Dubai is clearly at the forefront of trade, transport and logistics, which in its modern history includes such milestones as the creation of Port Rashid (a major regional deep-water port) in the 1970's and Jebel Ali Port (the world's largest man-made port) and the Jebel Ali Free (Trade) Zone, both established in the 1980's.
Dubai's Sheikh Zayed Road area, 1990
Its modern inroads into regional and international trade reflect a legacy of seafaring trade going back over a century.
Diversification from trade and transport into a variety of other industries accelerated in the 1990's with establishment of various other freezones built upon the success of Jebel Ali.
Newer freezones today include media, publishing and IT sectors and more recently healthcare, humanitarian aid and cultural activities.
Dubai's Sheikh Zayed Road area, 2008
While tourism and retail commerce seem to have evolved naturally from the growth of trade and transport activities, the surprise event at the end of the 20th century was the explosion of the real estate and construction industries.
Seemingly overnight, Dubai was transformed from a society where even native citizen's were not allowed to freely buy and sell property to one the world's most dynamic hotspots in this endeavor.
Beginning with a royal edict allowing nationals, foreign residents and even non-residents to purchase property in designated areas, Dubai has become the world's leading site for construction, new building design, real estate, land reclamation, urban infrastructure development...
And the list goes on. Over US$ 1 trillion in construction and infrastructure projects are presently underway or approved for commencement in Dubai and neighboring emirates.
Dubai's Sheikh Zayed Road and new Downtown area, 2015
Drums please... Dubai has truly entered onto the world stage and made its presence seen, heard and felt in a big way.
Read more: the UAE